1. Imagine that you were born black in 1860 and lived until 1920. Would you have any faith in the U.S. legal system? In the “American way of life”? Why or why not?
No, I would have no faith in the legal system because the legal system offered nothing for me to have faith in. Specifically, although the Constitution demands that all people, regardless of their skin color, are treated equally under the law, the establishment of Jim Crow laws it their affirmation under the Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” principle made equality true in everything but reality. Indeed, contrary to what my father told me about how the Civil War was fought to stop racism; what I saw as the war’s aftermath was the legalization of racism, and the reality was that society during my lifetime inherently unequal and organized in a manner that systematically disadvantaged African Americans educationally, socially and economically. There was no “American way of life for me. Despite, the Declaration of Independence’s claim the all me are created equal; in my life, inequality was so ingrained that as a child I was only allowed to eat vanilla ice cream during the July 4th Independence Day holiday.
2. How did Jim Crow laws affect the American image abroad? How did our foreign policy impact racial equality at home?
Jim Crow laws negatively affected the American image abroad especially during World War II and the years after V-Day leading up to the Korean War. A number nations, including its allies in Europe, could not understand how the U.S. could fight against the racist philosophy and policies of Hitler and the Nazi regime yet accept and promote a racist and segregated society within its own borders. On the one hand, it made other nations doubt whether the U.S. was truly the proponent of democracy and defender of freedom that it said it was. On the other hand, the inequality that Jim Crow laws created was a propaganda success for communists seeking to spread the merits of communism and its call for the equality of all people. President Truman, who saw communism as one of the great threats to American society, took the lead in government to bring about racial equality. His demand that the U.S. Armed Services be integrated created the first ever completely integrated fighting force in U.S. history. The U.S. Armed Forces would go on to provide an example to other government departments and private industry of the benefits of an integrated organization.
3. Most laws are meant to promote the general welfare or protect society from an evil. Did Jim Crow laws serve these purposes? If so, how? If not, what was their purpose?
The answer depends on your point of view. If American society is defined as “white society,” then an argument could be made that Jim Crow laws served their purposes. White society, especially southern white society during the Jim Crow era had little if any contact with African Americans other than the people that worked for or were in a subservient position to them. Accordingly, it was most whites thought quite poorly of African American and that they needed to be protected from them. Therefore, having laws that kept the races separated made sense; at least from the point of view of white supremacists who felt they needed protection from the evil of African Americans. Conversely, if society including all people regardless of race, then the Jim Crow laws were an unconstitutional and undemocratic attempt to keep one group of people in power. It did not promote the general welfare of a multiracial, multicultural nation but rather served to perpetuate the evil of racism.